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  • petermcmaster

Goat Island/Collaboration

Hi everyone.

Hi from over here, just like last time, but not really like last time.

How are you getting on?

Tina tells me that you may, in the near future, return to a shared space with each other. That is really exciting. Really, really exciting. I am jealous in a way. As a worker in arts and culture (and unlike yourselves, not a student) I don’t know when I will have this option.

But if I put myself in your shoes, yes I would be excited, but perhaps also nervous, or anxious. Or maybe I would be questioning the form that lockdown has manipulated me into over the past year, and be questioning how someone might see a new me, or a me that hasn’t been around for a while, but who has now returned.

How can I be with others again?

How should I present myself if I don’t know the ways in which I have changed?

How does companionship get re-learnt, having been un-companioned for so long?

Good luck to you all. I am sure it will be beautiful.


Goat Island and Collaboration

With a view to returning, to being together again, I have been drawn to some writing from the once Goat Island performance company, based in Chicago. Once a pioneering collective of inter-disciplinary makers and academics, they were incredibly influential on contemporary understandings of collaboration and performance making.

When I was a student between 2005-2009, I was lucky to see a couple of their works live and I also participated in their winter school programme. Their literature, writing, documentation and visitations peppered our studies, and I don’t know, maybe there is something profound for me looking back at that time, whilst writing to you as students in a similar position, but in such a different world.

All things change.

And as I mentioned, Goat island were once, but they’re not now. Some members disbanded, some joined together to form another company called Every House Has a Door. They are amorphous, rolling with the times, following the energy, letting things evolve.

And there’s also something else in there. Something about you lot getting together again after so long, expected to work and collaborate with each other, and the fact that Goat Island had so much to say about collaboration. I wonder, how do their writings and ideas translate to this moment, to your re-connections in the midst of a global pandemic?

The following text is taken from their well-known writing entitled, Letter To a Young Practitioner, which also feels apt, as in, in one way or another (either through age, or experience, or both) you might also identify with this name, young practitioner.

I have cut it up, making it more suitable for this moment with you now, but at the bottom of the text I have included a link to the fuller version.

Enjoy reading it. Look at these seven lessons from the perspective of eyes who have seen a pandemic, of eyes who have probably only looked at a small portion of the world for the past year.

To a Young Practitioner,

Goat Island’s performance work is developed collaboratively, a model also adopted when teaching their workshops. Divisions between individuals, and ideas of authorship are blurred – through this we see that the creative material connects to others, and is completed by them. The emphasis is on process, systems, structure, research tools for creation. Use what is around you, approach it with fresh eyes and ears: use the other workshop participants, Goat Island, the room you’re in, the building, the city - other bodies. Use your memory as a resource - mental recall, body recall – not as route to nostalgia or therapy, not necessarily to tell your story, but to tell a wider narrative which reveals the extent to which your body already contains a wider narrative. Critical evaluation is transformed into the need to respond creatively. The work exists in the moment, vital, perhaps not yet even assimilated or understood by the artists who made it. Give up what seems important to you; it’s not yours. Think formally and then thematically. Not analyzing material to find its meaning, but accumulating material, finding unexpected connections.

This is not everything I have to say, but this is all the time / for all we’ve experienced together. I would like to review a few thoughts now; lessons if you will. There are seven of them that I thought of specifically as it pertains to collaboration.

#1. Remember other people.

Love them, hate them, give them gifts, steal their ideas, but focus on others to get out of your self. These other people will be your co-workers of course but also your audience and also those who have nothing to do with you or your art or your lifestyle. By all this, we mean, remember that there are people who live outside the art world. And we like to remember these because there is more to life than art. And we like to remember these because there is hunger and injustice outside. And we like to remember these because we want to communicate with other worlds of thought.

If you have someone that you can work with, make a commitment and work through the differences. Make a commitment to supplement the gaps with your own contributions. Pay no attention to those who will tell you not to work with your friends. It is an insurmountable work to be an artist. It is shallow to rely on your own energy. Ideas like to be cross fertilized. The bonding that happens between artists working together produces an integrity that reads into the work ... is visible in the work ... communicates to the audience and viewer.

#2. Beware of Brilliance.

Creativity and genius will only take you so far. They might be of little importance. Beware of these gifts if you have them. Be aware of these gifts if you see them in those you collaborate with. Look for a sense of humor. Look for conflict resolution skills, forgiveness, the ability to listen, the ability to place faith in other people’s fragmented ideas, a comfortability with failure, a disciplined nature and a love of work.

#3. Make small plans.

Temper your big dreams. Dream the smallest thing you can think of and try to perfect that. It's good to have one tiny perfect thing in your history. This is not a small challenge there are infinite details to perfect in a small venture and the changes force themselves in, expanding the vision. I feel that my eyes have become sharper in seeing small things since I have been working with Goat Island. As a child I studied in a one room school house and the first word I learned to read was “LOOK.” My vision for a classroom would be an empty room save a table a chair and a microscope.

#4. Value the work of your hands and body.

This physical body is the meeting place of worlds. Spiritual, social, political, emotional, intellectual worlds are all interpreted through this physical body. When we work with our hands and body to create art or simply to project an idea from within, we imprint the product with a sweat signature, the glisten and odor which only the physical body can produce. These are the by-products of the meeting of worlds through the physical body. It is visible evidence of the work and effort to move from conception to production. Our bodies are both art elements and tools that communicate intuitively.

#5. Work slowly.

This follows quickly after the last lesson about the physical body. It takes lots of time to work by hand, but this time input is a distinctive trade mark. The old world crafts people made things. We think they are valuable not because of their content but because of the time signature of the work. Their bodies were not more capable than ours to join wood or carve stone or create paintings or make dances; in fact, it is possible that the physical body is more capable today than it was hundreds of years ago. But a possible advantage the old world did have was a different concept of time. Perhaps they were more at ease with the passage of time. It was acceptable for them to take years to finish a work of art. We would advise you to look for long periods of time at your project. Maybe put it away, forget about it, bring it back years later finish it after you have become a different person.

#6. Learn to say no.

This follows quickly after the last lesson about working slowly. If you work slowly you will not have time for every project that will be presented to you so you will pass up creative opportunities. It’s easier to say no when you are older, But while you are still young you might not have many opportunities of a lifetime being offered to you and it will be hard for you to say no. But I think the chance of a lifetime comes quite frequently to those who are looking. If you follow this advise you will definitely regret having said no to some great opportunity and you will learn to live with that regret, but in return, you will have time.

#7. Be thankful for your fears.

Add this to the others that have come / the day is still beginning. Never take the same route, always vary your path. Don’t write with a slow pen get one that flows well.

See as a new eye, as a novice, as someone who isn’t jaded by fixed notions.”

( full version here:



Take 30 minutes to write a letter to yourself 10 years ago from the person you are this very day, having lived through this past year. Write freely, don’t feel it necessary to be bound by proper grammar, or typical sentence structure.

What advice would you give to yourself?

What advice would you give yourself for living through crisis?

What do you know now that you didn’t know then?

What have you discovered that’s important?

What have you discovered that isn’t?

Stop writing after 30 minutes.

Re-read your letter.

As you read highlight 10 phrases/lines/sentences/words that feel most important to you.

Once you have finished extract these 10 phrases/lines/sentences/words and write them out as a list on a separate piece of paper. Once you’ve done this, scroll down.

Look over this list, and highlight the 5 most important phrases/lines/sentences/words written, and again, extract these and write them out as a new list. Once you have done this, scroll down.

Look over this new list, and highlight the 3 most important phrases/lines/sentences/words written, and again, extract these and write them out as a list. Once you have done this scroll down.

Look over this new list, and highlight the 2 most important phrases/lines/sentences/words written, and again, extract these and write them out as a list.

Look over this new list, and highlight the most important phrase/line/sentence/word written, and again, extract it.

Write this phrase/line/sentence/word on a new piece of paper in a way that it fills up the whole page.

Once you have done this, take a break.


After your break, come back to your drawn out phrase/sentence/line/word.

Using this phrase/sentence/line/word as the title for a performance not yet made, write a set of 7 instructions that would allow a group to start making it collaboratively.

These instructions can be descriptive, pragmatic, abstract, short, long, fantastical, impossible dreams.

This is the blueprint for a collaborative art work to enable you to move forward together.

It is to be given to your classmates when you finally get together.

Have fun, ands see you next time.

P x

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